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Sunday 17 December 2017

Author of ‘Frontline’ report still waiting on BAI retraction

Sarah Stack

Sarah Stack

THE broadcasting watchdog has not responded to complaints from an author of the internal report into RTE's controversial Frontline presidential debate, it was claimed.

Rob Morrison, the independent member of the review team, threatened to sue the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) amid claims it questioned his integrity and reputation.

He said he went through a difficult 24 hours after the BAI stated there were more significant editorial failings than was admitted in his final report, co-authored with senior RTE executive Steve Carson.

"I called on the BAI to clarify their position, to retract their statement, and an apology," said Mr Morrison.

"The BAI have not clarified or retracted it," he added.

Solicitors for Mr Morrison, former head of news and current affairs at UTV, issued a letter of action against the BAI on Monday, November 26, after newspapers printed stories insinuating they "covered up".

He told a Dail committee he has not yet had a reply from the watchdog.

Mr Morrison claimed the BAI statement was defamatory and sounded like an allegation that the pair had intentionally left something out of the published document

He maintained there was a media frenzy afterwards, with both authors quizzed by journalists and broadcasters, and that a BAI advisory note stating there were no failings in the authors was not issued to newsrooms unless requested.

The BAI had called on RTE to release a 27-page working document which was used to inform the final eight-page report into the contentious broadcast in October 2011, which dealt a hammer blow to presidential frontrunner Sean Gallagher's chances of victory in the election.

A tweet from someone falsely claiming to represent rival candidate Martin McGuinness, which was not sent by his campaign team, claimed that a man who allegedly gave Mr Gallagher a cheque for a Fianna Fail fundraiser would be presented at a Sinn Fein press conference the following day.

The editorial review commissioned by RTE looked at the overall editorial processes of the Frontline programme.

It found there been a series of failings in the production and broadcast of the presidential debate, but the probe concluded that the mistakes were not made as a result of bias or partiality.

But the BAI's compliance committee claimed the working document featured additional information and comments which indicate the editorial failings were more significant than identified by RTE.

Mr Morrison and Mr Carson appeared before the joint committee on communications, natural resources and agriculture with Noel Curran, RTE Director General and Kevin Bakhurst, the new head of news and current affairs at the station.

Mr Curran said what happened on the Frontline debate, so soon after the Mission To Prey programme, which falsely accused a priest of raping a woman and fathering a child in Africa, had a profound impact on RTE.

"The very serious editorial failures made in these two current affairs programmes have rightly caused RTE to review and interrogate all of its editorial policy, practices and values," he said.

"These errors and failures have presented many challenges to many people in recent months, not least to those who were directly affected by them.

"But they have also caused concern and anger both within RTE and among our audience, the general public, whose trust in our organisation we value above all else."

The BAI said it received a letter from Mr Morrison's legal team on Friday November 23 and responded to it a week later, but the watchdog would not comment on the contents of the correspondence.

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